Martha Stewart's checklist of spring cleaning tips may work for the sitting room, but it won't cut it for a branded online community. At some point, your online community forum may lose its sheen and start to fail on its promise to create a space for your fans or customers to connect in a lively community. If your community is getting a bit stale, this spring may the right time to shake things up and give your community some extra TLC.
Based on all the work we've done with customers to refresh their brand communities, we've come up with the following community checklist to return life and new growth into a channel that can strengthen loyalty, improve products, and drop support costs.
Just like your closets and pantry, look at what you have and then identify what's loved and how you can encourage your community or your team to create that type of content on a more consistent basis.
Factors that will help you find the content that's great:
This is the start in deciding what to do more of.
Consider a community survey to hear directly from your members on how you are doing and what you can improve upon. Ask them what they like most about the community, what drives them to participate and what they'd like to see more of. Be sure to let them know that their priorities are your brand's priorities and they are very important to the community's continued success. You'll also want to put this into practice, rather than have it as lip-service. While you have their attention, you may even want to ask if they have interest in contributing on specific topics. A lot of people like to write about their experiences and insights. Take advantage. You may find some great new influencers through this email survey.
While it's great to get confirmation of value from your top visitors, you also need to know more about those who stopped visiting over the past year. They're going to help you figure out what needs to be spruced up and cleaned out. In an email survey, ask why they aren't visiting and what they're looking for so you can meet their needs and get them re-engaged with the community. Again, don't hesitate to ask if they want to share content. Perhaps, giving them a platform to show off their knowledge will incite them to recommit to your community and bring in new users.
Using the research gathered by analyzing your existing online community and reaching out to the users as well as those who abandoned the community, create a plan for your refresh. A few things you want to consider as part of this project include redecorating your online community. A fresh coat of paint is sure to breathe new life to the space. While this may take a bit more work, every community can benefit from a new look. This can be a new design, maybe new items in the sidebar, new colors. There are a ton of tools, out there like Clicktales or Hotjar you can use to see how people use your community, and you can use those insights to make your community even more inviting.
In terms of your site's platform, review the sign-up process for members. Make it as easy as possible, don't have complicated application forms. Consider setting up a single sign-on (SSO) or social login with Facebook or Twitter.
Also decide which features to enable, including plug-ins, add-ons, and other features that are integrated into your online forum. If you haven't done so already consider enabling gamification features, if it makes sense for your type of community. Build out the perks you want to reward your members with. This could be badges or other types of recognition for different achievements, such as being a founding member or creating content.
4. Don't just assume they'll come. Promote!
Get the word out to your target audience about what you're up to this spring. Take advantage of your existing presence online. Promote your community refresh all over your website, through email communications, and remind your sales team and customer service reps to tell everyone they talk to about the modern, new online community. A great example is the Destinations International site, where they actively promote their new community to new users.
Tactics that aid in driving visitors to your site include: inviting contacts (the more, the merrier), tell everyone and anyone about the value and the new look and feel, encourage your network to visit using a contest or reward system integrated into your online community platform, and try to partner with influencers. Collaborating with a related and complementary company can be an effective way to promote your new community and welcome new members.
5. Keep it Fresh
Once you've hit your refresh date for the public, don't stop promoting, learning and engaging. If you let things go, overtime it will revert back to feeling a bit dingy. Continue to survey your audience. Keep tabs on the most popular topics and make sure your top contributors know they're appreciated. But don't forget to watch out for anyone who stops coming. Reach out. Make them feel missed and special. Let them know you care.
About the author:
Adrian Speyer is Vanilla Forum's Head of Community. With over 15 years' experience building communities, online marketing, ecommerce and product marketing, he is full of great insights on best practices and how to create successful communities for the best brands in the world using Vanilla Forums. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianspeyer or download his ebook on the 5 Biggest Mistakes Made With Online Communities & How to Avoid Them.